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Public Statements

Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2007

Floor Speech

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Date:
Location: Washington, DC

COMPREHENSIVE IMMIGRATION REFORM ACT OF 2007 -- (Senate - June 06, 2007)

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

Mr. SPECTER. Madam President, I was about to say some nice things about the Senator from Texas, and I still will. He has been a very active and constructive participant in the consideration of immigration reform. In the 109th Congress he was very much involved and contributed greatly. We didn't always agree on a number of items, but he is very sincere, very studious, very thoughtful, and very constructive, and he continues in that role, although as is evident, there are some differences as to our approach. But I commend the Senator from Texas for what he has done and for what he continues to do here.

I am in favor of the alternative to the Cornyn amendment. I say that because we have structured the bill with a great many compromises. While I might be inclined to agree with the Senator from Texas on some of the specifics that he has enumerated which would be a bar to citizenship, there was a tremendous amount of give-and-take in the structuring of this bill so that I am standing with the committee bill--strike that. We don't have a committee bill. I wish we did. But I am supporting the bill which came out of the lengthy consultation with about a dozen principal Senators participating. There are a number of specifics, in the amendment which is side by side, which I think are preferable to the amendment by the Senator from Texas.

Illustrative of this preference is that the Senator from Texas makes a third conviction for drunk driving a crime of violence. Well, it may be a crime of violence, or it may not be a crime of violence. The alternative which has been proposed would make drunk driving a grounds for inadmissibility and deportability, providing the alien serves at least a year in prison. From my days as district attorney, I have seen quite a number of cases involving drunk driving, for example, and while I don't condone multiple convictions, I think it is a more appropriate ground that there be inadmissibility or deportability where the drunk driving was serious enough to call for a year in jail.

The amendment offered by the Senator from Texas also strips judicial review of findings that an alien is barred on national security grounds. From what we have seen about this issue in many contexts, there needs to be judicial review, although in a different context. In the last few days we have seen the Military Commission conclude that it had no jurisdiction because of problems with the indicting procedure with respect to whether one is an enemy alien or an unlawful enemy alien. This points to the necessity for judicial review, which would be excluded by the Cornyn amendment.

The Cornyn amendment also would deport or prevent citizenship for someone who has ever violated a protective order. Well, it is a good bit more complicated than that. The alternative amendment provides that there would be an analysis. It would exclude people convicted of a felony domestic violation, but there would be a consideration about whether, on a protective order, the alien was acting in self-defense, along with other considerations, in fact. Most fundamentally, the Cornyn amendment would strip the authority of the Departments, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice, to waive certain grounds which would warrant deportation or inadmissibility. That discretion, which is lodged in the alternative, enables a fuller review of the facts. It gives a chance to really look beyond some of the technical categorizations which might appear ominous on their face, but which, after there is a detailed review of what has happened on the underlying factors, might reveal there ought not to be inadmissibility or deportation. That discretion ought to remain with responsible officials in the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice.

It is for those reasons, but fundamentally because the pending legislation was crafted with a great many compromises, that I favor the substitute and oppose the Cornyn amendment.

I would like to address something which is more fundamental and very serious, as we have had a statement by the majority leader that if cloture is not invoked tomorrow at 6 o'clock, he will take down this bill.

I think that would be grossly erroneous. I think that would be very bad procedure. If you compare what was done last year in the 109th Congress with what we have done in this Congress, you would see there was much more consideration in the last Congress than has been afforded this bill at this time.

For example, in the 109th Congress, we worked the bill through the committee. We did not work this bill through the committee. That was a leadership decision. I have stated on the Senate floor on several occasions the concern of not having gone through committee; that it was probably a mistake. Well, if this bill is taken down because we haven't made sufficient progress in the eyes of the majority leader, there is no doubt it would be a mistake because had we gone through committee, we would have worked through so many of these issues which we have had to legislate on the floor.

In the 109th Congress, the Judiciary Committee, which I chaired, had 6 days of committee markups. They were tough and laborious days, and we dealt with 59 amendments. We returned one Monday after a recess when the majority leader said he would proceed with the substitute bill, and a Monday back after a recess is a very tough day. But on March 27, 2006, the committee made a special effort to reconvene. We had a quorum, believe it or not, by 10 o'clock in the morning, and we worked through, laboriously, until the evening when we reported out a bill. That is what happened during the markup, 6 days of markup in the committee where, as I say, we considered some 59 amendments.

Then, when we moved to the floor of the Senate, we had 12 days on the bill. We had 4 days before cloture failed, and then we came back with 8 days more and considered in excess of 50 total votes--some rollcall, some voice votes--in passing the bill out of the U.S. Senate.

Now, contrast that with what we have had up to the present time. We have been on the bill 8 days, and 3 of those days were Mondays or Fridays pro forma without voting. We have only had 5 days where we have been involved in voting. Even on those days, they have not been as productive as voting days were on the bill in the 109th Congress because we have been in quorum calls. We have been negotiating. We have been trying to work through issues that, had this bill gone through committee, would have been resolved some time ago.

So you have a comparison of, really, 5 days, plus 3 days of pro forma, 8 at the most, contrasted with 12 days before. It is more accurately a comparison of 12 to 5--12 in the last Congress where we legislated and where we passed the bill. Here, where we have voted on only 21 amendments, contrasted with more than 50 we voted on in the last Congress.

We have also had a tremendous amount of Senators' time and time of the Secretary of Commerce and the Secretary of Homeland Security. We met for 2 hours on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays, and sometimes on Mondays and Fridays as well, over a 10-week period.

It is hard to calculate how many hours were put in by Senators, but I think it goes into the thousands. It is hard to calculate how much time was put in by the two secretaries, but I think that goes into the hundreds. If you talk about staff time, it is incalculable. The staff director, Mike O'Neill, worked for about 20 days solid, including weekends, and that was sort of par for the course.

So to pull this bill tomorrow at 6 o'clock--I think it would be hard to find the right word that is appropriate in strength and not overboard. But I think ``outrageous'' would be a modest comment; it would be outrageous to pull this bill tomorrow.

One of my staffers said this bill has been the result of blood, sweat, and fears--paraphrasing Churchill's blood, sweat, and tears--and maybe more fears than blood and sweat. But we have come a long way. We have already seen a lot of finger pointing on this floor. We seem to be a lot better in the Senate at finger pointing than at legislating. But if this bill is pulled down, then you may even see toe pointing, because 10 fingers won't be sufficient for Republicans blaming Democrats and the majority leader for pulling down the bill, and Democrats blaming Republicans for a lot of dilatory amendments.

The majority leader has said these amendments are designed to kill the bill, that the people offering the amendments don't have any intention of voting for the bill. Senators who offer amendments don't have to have intentions of voting for the bill. Senators can offer amendments because they are Senators and because they think their amendments may pass, and because, who knows, they may even think their amendments could improve the bill. I think Senator Cornyn sincerely believes his amendment will improve the bill.

I ask unanimous consent for 3 more minutes.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.

Mr. SPECTER. Madam President, I ordinarily keep better track of time, but I am a little wound up and concerned about where all of the work we have done may end up if this bill is pulled and, more importantly, after the work that has been done, where it would leave the immigration mess in the United States. We have 12 million undocumented immigrants; we don't know where they are or what risks they face. We cannot deport them all. We have a porous border. If we don't have comprehensive immigration reform, we are not going to put up all the fencing, the barriers, and stop the additional people. The administration has made commitments, and there will be more about how the funds will be spent. We are not going to go through with employer verification. We are not going to spend the money on foolproof identification so employers can see who is legal and who is not legal, so that we have the basis for imposing tough sanctions, including jail. We are not going to eliminate the magnet to bring more people in. It will be a colossal failure.

I think it is safe to say the Senate would be the laughingstock of the country, after all of the hyperbole and publicity and all of the proposals and objections, if we are not able to finish this bill. It doesn't have to be finished this week. There is next week. We are not known for necessarily using the full week. We vote very infrequently on Mondays, almost never on Fridays. The evening session is not really practiced around here. When I came to the Senate with Howard Baker, we used to have a lot of all-night sessions. One night in 1982 or 1983--I ask for 4 more minutes.

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Mr. SPECTER. Madam President, we had a tax bill on the Senate floor, and it was 11:45. Howard Baker, the majority leader, was consulting with the Finance chairman, Senator Dole. There were 63 amendments pending. Senator Baker said we are going to work through the night. He said amendments, like mushrooms, grow overnight. So we worked through the night. There were some amendments taken, some amendments withdrawn, and some voted upon. It is amazing how much shorter the debate is at 3 a.m. It is also amazing how many more Senators there are on the floor at 3 a.m. There were a lot of people on cots in the cloakroom, but a lot of Senators were on the floor. The insomniacs outnumbered the sleepers by 2 to 1. We had a lot of comments like you heard in Parliament. Someone would be making an argument and there would be cries of ``vote, vote.'' At 3 a.m. the cries of ``vote'' and the lack of decorum carried the day.

The point is that a few more days in the Senate will not impede the action of this body. Some of the items that are coming up on the agenda may not merit the kind of time and attention the immigration bill does.

The American people are obviously sick and tired of the bickering in the Congress and in the Senate, sick and tired of the kind of finger pointing, and there will be an awful lot of it if we fail to legislate on this matter. The bill may be voted down. I think the bill will pass if we stick with it. Certainly, we ought to carry it through to conclusion.

I thank my colleague from Massachusetts for yielding me the extra time.

I yield the floor.

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Mr. SPECTER. Mr. President, the Senator from New Mexico and I have worked on a great many matters since he was elected in 1982. If I may have the attention of the Senator from New Mexico, I am about to compliment him. I don't like to compliment him behind his back. The Senator from New Mexico and I have worked on a great many matters since he was elected to the Senate in 1982. I came at about the same time after the 1980 election. I am especially interested in his amendment and the criticism of the bill because it is the politics of compromise and not based on sound public policy.

The Senator from New Mexico and I are now working on a bill called the Bingaman-Specter bill on global warming. I am pleased to hear there has been no compromise in that bill that is based upon sound public policy. But in a very serious way, I suggest that is what we do. This place would be run a lot better if I ran it unilaterally. The Senator from New Jersey, who is presiding, smiles at that. I think more in humor than in disagreement. But we have 100 Members of this body with 200 different ideas. Each of us has two ideas on the same subject at a minimum. I know the Senator from New Mexico has a full plate on many items. He chairs the Energy Committee. He has been working on the global warming issue. He is not on Judiciary, and he doesn't have a special concern--well, for whatever reason, he did not elect to become part of the group of Senators who worked on the bill, for good and sufficient reason. I am not suggesting he should have. He attended the sessions, as did the Senator from New Jersey who is presiding, and saw what we were doing. We were so compromised that people on opposite ends of the political spectrum left us. They wouldn't stay with us because we couldn't satisfy everybody, and understandably so. We simply could not satisfy everybody.

The question is whether we would have satisfied anybody. We will know when we move along and try to get this bill to final passage. But when you take what happened to us last year--we passed a bill in the Senate, they passed one in the House, and we couldn't even conference it, wouldn't even conference it. There are people who just want a tight border and to deport 12 million undocumented immigrants. That is what they want to do.

As we work through the compromises, I would consider it a compliment to be a party to the politics of compromise, and I would accept the term ``politician'' with grace and appreciation. I remember hearing Adlai Stevenson speak in the early fifties. Perhaps it was when he first ran for President in 1952. He said: Do you know the definition of a statesman? The definition of a statesman, Mr. President, is a dead politician. That is why I much prefer being a politician, at least for the moment. I much prefer being a politician.

On this specific amendment, we hassled about this a long time. We had 6 years in mind. Should it be 3 and 3 or should it be 2 and back and 2 and back for a year and back? We finally accepted this compromise to try to make the workers temporary, that they would not get roots here and not return to their home country; that when we are working within the structure of the immigration laws, we have to accommodate the 12 million because we cannot deport them. We would like to identify those who are criminals, who are not contributing, who do not have roots and deport them, if we can identify them in numbers that we can handle.

Then there was the issue of trying hard to avoid the characterization of amnesty. Amnesty is a lot like Shakespeare's famous definition of a rose:

That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.

If we could find more ways to make these 12 million people earn citizenship, we would. We have the fine. Maybe it is too high, maybe it is too low. We have back taxes. Maybe we can find that out and maybe we cannot. The requirement of English I think everybody agrees with. Having roots in this country, yes. Being a contributor to this country, yes. If we could shake the title of amnesty, we would like to do it, if somebody could tell us how to do it.

There are many people who are so opposed to what we are trying to do, they will call anything amnesty. I am not going to say it is not amnesty--although I believe it is not amnesty because they are earning their way--because if you get involved in name calling, it all disintegrates. People are angry at President Bush for saying it is not amnesty when they are sure it is amnesty.

I compliment the President for the leadership he has shown on this issue. He sent us Secretary of Commerce Gutierrez and Secretary of Homeland Security Chertoff. For hours, days, weeks, months they worked on it. There was a commitment by the administration.

The President has spoken out on this issue loudly, plainly, and clearly. He has taken a lot of brickbats for it, but he is working hard on it. On the Senate floor a few weeks ago, I made a comment that it was either amnesty or anarchy. Anarchy is what we have here; that is, if it is amnesty--and, again, I say I think it is not, but I am not going to get into a name-calling contest with people who want to call names.

Lou Dobbs of CNN has been one of the most vocal critics of the plan. He
has a right to do that, and I have been on his program and discussed it with him, debated it with him. But I was interested to see him comment about my characterization of anarchy. That struck a chord.

Lou Dobbs doesn't like anarchy--nobody likes anarchy--but in a sense that is the choice we have.

So I urge my colleagues to vote against the amendment of the Senator from New Mexico, although I have great respect, and I know this is very thoughtful, very well presented, all except for his criticism of the politics of compromise.

I thank the Chair, and I yield the floor.

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Mr. SPECTER. Mr. President, earlier this afternoon the Senator from New Mexico criticized the bill as being the ``politics of compromise,'' as opposed to sound public policy. I told him, had he participated in the negotiations, he would have seen quintessential politics of compromise. You could not begin to make any progress at all on this legislation unless it was the politics of compromise. I suggest that is an art form frequently practiced in this body. I reminded the Senator from New Mexico of our cosponsorship of global warming. I am glad to hear there is nothing in the bill which he is the principal sponsor of that is a factor of the politics of compromise. I am glad our bill is pure.

I have not seen the bill, in the short time I have been in the Senate, that doesn't have compromise in it. If it did not have any compromise, it would not have gotten here. If it did get here, it would not be passed.

The principle of this bill is to make it temporary so people do not establish roots. If you dealt with Senator Kyl on this matter, you would understand how important he is to this bill and how important this provision is to his continued support.

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Mr. SPECTER. Mr. President, I certainly agree with the Senator from New York about the value of having family unity. A strong family is certainly a very important value that we ought to maintain to the maximum extent possible. I intend at the appropriate time, before the vote comes up, to raise a point of order under concurrent resolution 21, but for a few moments I will deal with the merits as to the issue advanced by the Senator from New York.

The effect of adoption of this amendment would mean those who are now legal permanent residents or green card holders would have an immediate right to bring in their spouse and children, and it is estimated there are some 800,000 of these green cards in existence at the present time. From many perspectives, it would be worthwhile to have that accomplished. That would certainly be a personal preference of mine, if it were not for many collateral constraining factors about the difficulty of allowing that many additional green cards all of a sudden. The 800,000 figure is the best estimate that is available at this late hour.

The effect of the amendment offered by the Senator from New York as to the approximately 12 million undocumented immigrants would be that as soon as the backlog is cleared after 8 years, then at that time they would be eligible to have green cards issued as green card holders or as legal permanent residents, after the backlog is cleared in 8 years. Under the amendment by the Senator from New York, they would have the right to bring in their spouse and minor children.

Again, if I were to devise an ideal system and there were not other limitations, I certainly would not disagree with that as a desirable way to proceed. But this compromise was constructed very carefully and very painfully by the dozen or so Senators from both the Democratic side of the aisle and the Republican side of the aisle who structured it. The Presiding Officer was a member of that group, the junior Senator from Colorado. In structuring the arrangement to not allow legal permanent residents or so-called green card holders from bringing in their spouse and minor children, there were many tradeoffs. As I have said on the floor earlier, many of the provisions which were excluded, rejected, were ones I personally would have favored. I have cast a fair number of votes here during the course of this debate that, given my preferences, I would have cast differently. But the overall objective of getting a bill passed is worth the compromises which have been made.

Earlier today, this amendment was characterized by the Senator from New Mexico as the politics of compromise. Well, that might sound bad, but that happens to be the reality of what goes on in the Senate all the time. It goes on in all political bodies. We don't have anyone who can structure a bill to his or her precise specifications. If I could structure a bill, it would be a very different bill. But my role, along with a number of other Senators, was to try to find accommodations to find a bill which we could agree to and bring to the floor and then, if the full Senate wanted to work its will to the contrary, that is the way the system works. But there is nothing inappropriate about the politics of compromise. That means we sacrifice the better for the good.

The overall good is to get a bill passed which will deal with 12 million undocumented immigrants in a constructive way. It gives them an opportunity to escape the fear they now have that they will be detected at any time. It gives us an opportunity to identify those who are not contributing, who have criminal records, who ought to be deported. We can't deport all 12 million, but for the balance to be on the path toward citizenship, that is a very worthwhile, commendable objective as to the greater picture. We have comprehensive reforms. We have securing the border and employer verification. I will not go through all of the details, but this bill is very important. This accommodation to reject the contentions of the Senator from New York is necessary if we are to attain the greater good.

Mr. KYL. Mr. President, might I just interrupt with a question to the Senator?

The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from Arizona.

Mr. KYL. Mr. President, is it not true that under this amendment, this amendment would wipe out the difference between a citizen of the United States and a green card holder with respect to their right to immigrate the nuclear family? So there would be no distinction between a green card holder and a citizen's rights?

Mr. SPECTER. Mr. President, the Senator from Arizona is correct. It is the citizen who has the right to bring a spouse and minor children, not legal permanent residents, so-called green card holders.

I yield the floor.


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